Emergency meeting to debate reopening Stanley Park to vehicles
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Park Board commissioner John Coupar supported the closure of Stanley Park to vehicles in April when COVID-19 was surging in Metro Vancouver, in order to keep walkers and cyclists apart.
But with virus numbers on the decline and the risk of outdoor transmission low, he’d like to see the park returned to its pre-COVID configuration.
"So cyclists and walkers on the seawall, and vehicles back on Stanley Park Drive, as they have been for years," said Coupar. He’s requested an emergency meeting of the park board on Thursday evening to debate his motion to re-open Stanley Park immediately, while long term plans are drawn up for a possible reduction in vehicle traffic in the park.
"Let’s open it up, and then let’s do the work and figure out what people want. We’re not talking about a playground here, we’re talking about Stanley Park. This is a big deal," he said.
But park board chair Camil Dumont is concerned letting cyclists and walkers share the seawall again could be risky.
"To cram all of the cyclists and walkers on the seawall as per pre-COVID Stanley Park circulation doesn’t seem to be as safe as we’d like, so I think that's the real stumbling block is how to do it safely," he said.
Parks department staff have reportedly been working on reopening plans that would include reducing vehicle lanes from two to one, allowing cyclists to continue to use the roadway and keeping the seawall for pedestrians during the pandemic.
“Operationally it's very complex to do, so it will take time and we’ll do it right and we’ll do it as soon as we can,” said Dumont.
Coupar worries if the park doesn’t reopen until a new configuration is agreed upon and installed, the wait could prove fatal for several park businesses who depend on vehicle traffic and haven’t been able to reopen.
"Elsewhere in the city we seem to be doing everything we can to support our local businesses and restaurants, and I would like to see the park board do the same thing," said Coupar.
"We’re not aiming to hurt any of our businesses, that seems like a false narrative to me," said Dumont. "My sense is it will be open much sooner than later, and I’m hopeful for that, because that benefits everyone."
There is one advocate for keeping cars out of Stanley Park permanently.
“I actually think it's a good thing, not just for the pandemic,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. "This is way for more people to be able to use the park safely and I would be in favour personally of keeping it that way."
That’s not likely to happen, and Coupar’s motion to open the park to its pre-COVID configuration immediately probably won’t pass during Thursday’s park board meeting either.
"They have five votes, we have two," said Coupar, but he’s not giving up. "I’m hoping to persuade them to get the park open to everybody and accessible to everybody now."